Sighing, I watched Helen extracting tiny morsels from her meal and lining the edge of her plate with them. I had forgotten about the chicken. When she’d finished harvesting chicken, she launched a second trawl through her meal. If I’d forgotten that she’d never touched chicken since once contracting food-poisoning, there was every chance I might also have overlooked her aversion to garlic.
The meal progressed in silence.
Aside from slaving over dinner, I’d cleaned the house to perfection that afternoon. The cloakroom gleamed, and a virgin bar of soap and unused toilet roll still lay sealed in their wrappers, in an attempt to allay Helen’s phobias. The unmistakable odour of disinfectant hung in the air.
Still I doubted that she would use the bathroom facilities. She never did. This evening would end, as always, when Helen’s bladder dictated that it must.
She raised her wine-glass to the light. The gesture had the semblance of a wine-buff admiring the hue, but in reality she was examining the glass to satisfy herself it was scrupulously clean. She took a delicate sip, pronouncing it to be ‘remarkably dry’.
Clearly it was too dry for her somewhat unadventurous taste but my husband, less versed in Helen’s lingual gymnastics, looked pleased. It was indeed a superb Chardonnay, but I knew that Helen would drink no more than two glasses, to avoid using the loo.
I reflected on the dessert course, wondering whether, in all of Helen’s history of ‘bad experiences’ I had ever heard blame laid at the door of crème brûlée. I thought not. There had been ‘something’ related to meringue glacé, though I could no longer remember the facts. She wouldn’t touch the cheese, as she considered cheese to be sufficiently defiled by the very nature of its own creative processes.
The dessert went without incident and we decided to take coffee on the terrace, to enjoy the gathering twilight of this warm summer evening. The dogs, pleased to have the company, stirred themselves and moved closer.
My husband lit his pipe, and Helen pointedly moved her chair up-wind of him. Rufus, our older dog, moved closer to Helen and laid his head upon her knee, causing her to stiffen and shift her chair once more.
Rufus looked at her with a pained expression of surprise. In our household such displays of affection warranted a pat on the head, or a titbit from the table, and he was clearly hurt that nothing was forthcoming.
With a heavy sigh, he lumbered to his feet, snapped at a hovering fly with immediate success, and strolled off to the lawn to relish his victory. Helen raised a small lace handkerchief to her lips and shuddered.
The younger dog, Cubby, stared speculatively at us for a few moments before struggling slowly into a sitting position. Recognising the posture, my heart sank, and we all watched with varying emotions as Cubby, sitting bolt upright with back legs splayed, eyes raised lasciviously skyward, vigorously shuffled his backside for several yards along the grass in front of us.
“Do the dogs come into the house very much?” enquired Helen, in the silence which followed.
“Only into the kitchen” said my husband reassuringly. “We don’t really like them in the living areas.”
I went to fetch their coats.